Christian Disregard for Animals: A History to Darwin

Religions created a hell on earth for animals. It was achieved openly, it was officially condoned, it enthusiastically maintained, it was paraded in religious blood festivals. No peaceable kingdom came from religious doctrine. Regardless of when Genesis was written—by a divinely inspired Moses as less rigorous theologians maintain around 1450–1410 BCE, or in the 6th century BCE—the following is what we ended up with millennia later, as observed by Anna Kingsford in the late 1800s:

The great need of the popular form of the Christian religion is precisely a belief in the solidarity of all living beings. It is in this that Buddha surpassed Jesus – in this divine recognition of the universal right to charity. Who can doubt it who visits Rome –– the city of the Pontiff – where now I am, and witnesses the black-hearted cruelty of these “Christians” to the animals which toil and slave for them? Ill as I am, I was forced,… to chastise a wicked child who was torturing a poor little dog tied by a string to a pillar – kicking it and stamping on it. No one save myself interfered. To-day I saw a great, thick-shod peasant kick his mule in the mouth out of pure wantonness. Argue with these ruffians, or with their priests, and they will tell you “Christians have no duties to the beasts that perish.” Their Pope has told them so. So that everywhere in Catholic Christendom the poor, patient, dumb creatures endure every species of torment without a single word being uttered on their behalf by the teachers of religion.[1]Anna Kingsford & Edward Maitland, The Credo of Christendom and Other Addresses and Essays on Esoteric Christianity (Kessinger Publishing, 1994), 239.

In response to Kingsford, who as an anti-vivisection campaigner had asked the pope to intercede on behalf of animals, Pope Pius IX made sure to set her straight, “Madame,” he said, “humankind has no duties to the animals.”[2]Roberta Kalechofsky, The Poet-Physician and The Healer-Killer: Vivisection and The Emergence of a Medical Technocracy (Micah Publications, 2009), 170-171. Not long after, true to his religious conviction, the Pope infamously refused to allow a Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals to be set up in Rome, thus ensuring theological consistency with the blocking of any humanitarian impulse toward nonhumans.[3]E. S. Turner, All Heaven in a Rage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), 163.

In his History of European Morals, W. E. H. Lecky marks the deep connection between the Catholic Church and animal abuse:

Catholicism has done very little to inculcate humanity to animals… Spain and southern Italy, in which Catholicism has most deeply implanted its roots, are even now, probably beyond all other countries in Europe, those in which inhumanity to animals is most wanton and unrebuked.[4]William E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals: From Augustus to Charlemagne, Volume II (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1895), 173, 177.

With its seemingly inverted moral system, Christianity in general went hand in hand with inhumanity toward animals.

There are of course legends of saints that religious authorities are quick to cite because they have nothing better to use. These paltry and meager examples are shallow and cartoonish equivalents to the kitschy religious junk peddled at places such as Lourdes. They say nothing of religious dogma or majority views of their respective eras. A person was kind to animals and this gets recorded in history? Perhaps if it were not such an anomaly, the small collection of records would not be so remarked upon.

The most well-known example is Saint Francis of Assisi (1181–1226), some of whose legends—the wolf near Gubbio who promised not to eat sheep, the birds who flocked to attend his preaching—are fantasies. He was not a vegetarian and evidence suggests he had “little genuine concern for animals.”[5]Norm Phelps, The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy From Pythagoras to Peta (New York: Lantern Books, 2007), 59. In any case, legends of saints and their compassion for animals are not about the animals, they are evangelical narratives about piety, lessons in Christian virtue, exaggerations of saintly powers, and affirmations about the miraculous operating in the world.

We must remember that the medieval mind thought of the world as God’s “book,” full of allegorical instruction and signs of divine truth. If Saint Francis treated lambs kindly, it was because they were “symbols of his Master.”[6]William E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals: From Augustus to Charlemagne, Volume II (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1895), 173. Such fanciful legends and what was actually practiced by the faithful represents a history of glaring hypocrisy. This was a sore point for Francis Cobbe at the turn of the 20th century:

no modern Franciscan that ever I have heard of, has stirred a finger on behalf of animals anywhere… I confess to feeling some impatience when the name of St. Francis and his amiable fondness for birds and beasts is perpetually flaunted whenever the lack of common humanity to animals visible in Catholic countries happens to be mentioned. It is a very small matter that a Saint, six hundred years ago, sang with nightingales and fed wolves, if the monks of his own Order and the priests of the Church which has canonised him, never warn their flocks that to torment God’s creatures is even a venial sin, and when forced to notice barbarous cruelties to a brute, invariably reply, “Non e Cristiano” as if all claims to compassion were dismissed by that consideration.[7]Frances Power Cobbe, Life of Frances Power Cobbe as Told by Herself (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1904) 548-549.

The brutality folk subjected animals to for amusements, let alone in husbandry, slavery and slaughter, belies the nonsense of doting saints and the notion that Christian virtue was what compelled them. Though no doubt there were individuals in the past who genuinely loved animals and were at the same time religious, it makes no case for a decent and caring religion.

Better to take seriously the real voices against the ill-treatment of animals and the dark dogmas of theological and philosophical authorities. Before Christian commentators themselves began disabusing the lie of dominion, the Greek philosopher Porphyry (233–306 CE) had already pointed out one of its prime logical fallacies. At the suggestion that animals exist solely for human use, Porphyry poses an enduring conundrum:

But if God fashioned animals for the use of men, in what do we use flies, lice, bats, beetles, scorpions, and vipers? of which some are odious to the sight, defile the touch, are intolerable to the smell, and in their voice dire and unpleasant; and others, on the contrary, are destructive to those that meet with them… we shall not be prevented from admitting, that we were generated for the sake of the most destructive animals, such as crocodiles…[8]Porphyry, Select Works of Porphyry, trans. Thomas Taylor (London: Thomas Rod, 1823), 115.

The same argument would be repeated in variations for centuries by progressive Christian writers, such as this attributed to J. Smith (1759–1828)—if animals be food for us, then perhaps we are even more food for them:

It is only pride and imbecility in man to imagine all things made for his sole use. There exist millions of suns and their revolving orbs which the eye of man has never perceived. Myriads of animals enjoy their pastime unheeded and unseen by him – many are injurious and destructive to him, All exist for purposes but partially known. Yet we must believe, in general, that all were created for their own enjoyment, for mutual advantage, and for the preservation of universal harmony in Nature… we may as well say that man was created solely for the various parasitical animals to feed on, because they do feed on him.[9]Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet: A Catena of Authorities Deprecatory of the Practice of Flesh-Eating (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003 [orig. 1883]), 71 note.

It was such a preposterous thing to say animals existed solely for humans that Maimonides (1135–1204) had to clarify it in the Guide for the Perplexed, stating that “It should not be believed that all the beings exist for the sake of the existence of humans. On the contrary, all the other beings too have been intended for their own sakes and not for the sake of something else” (3:13). Centuries later, naturist John Ray (1627–1705) observed in The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation that although the world-for-humans idea goes back to Cicero, only simpletons accept it now:

wise Men nowadays think otherwise. Dr. More [the Cambridge Platonist] affirms. That Creatures are made to enjoy themselves, as well as to serve us, and that it’s a gross piece of Ignorance and Rusticity to think otherwise. And in another place: This comes only out of Pride and Ignorance or a haughty Presumption; because we are encouraged to believe, that in some sense, all things are made for Man, therefore to think that they are not all made for themselves. But he that pronounceth this, is ignorant of the Nature of Man, and the Knowledge of Things: For if a good Man be merciful to his Beast, then surely a good God is Bountiful and Benign, and takes pleasure that all his Creatures enjoy themselves that have Life and Sense, and are capable of Enjoyment.[10]John Ray, The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (London: William Innes & Richard Manby, 1736), 175-176; and quoted in Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 126.

Backwardness, imbecility, ignorance, pride, presumption—this was how those still clinging to the lie of dominion were thought of hundreds of years ago even by fellow Christians, let alone a growing and vocal skeptical community.

A Battle for Souls

But well into the Victorian Age, serious Christian commentators had little impact on better treatment for animals in southern European Catholic countries because there was no change to the doctrine that animals had no souls.[11]Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 144. Although this theological fancy was unquestioned by most Catholics, it was under scrutiny by more progressive Protestants.

It was still dangerous to question, however, for it presented the same problem faced by Descartes: If humans were like animals and animals did not have souls, then humans may not have souls, either. That was the argument Richard Overton (d. 1664) posed in 1644, “if Man be Fallen and the Beasts be cursed for this sake, Man must be equally mortal with them.”[12]Richard Overton, Man Wholly Mortal (Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 47. After all, it was clear to most that humans and animals were made of the same stuff, and in death and decomposition they were equals. The Bible itself says as much:

For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity (Ecclesiastes 3, 19).

If not blind faith, only precarious reasoning could substantiate a soul and its immateriality against humanity’s blatantly obvious “class of animality,” notes skeptic Lord Viscount Bolingbroke (1678–1751).

All presumptions reliant on superiority collapse should humans be too much like animals and not have immortal souls. Those who rejected the “Christian dualism of body and soul,” writes Keith Thomas, did more than just weaken “the belief on rewards and punishments on which the good behaviour of the lower classes was thought to depend,” they removed the “prop by which man’s right to rule the lower species was usually supported.”[13]Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 123. Equal mortality, in other words, leveled the great Chain of Being.

So whether animals had souls was inextricably entwined with the fundamentals of Christian belief and practice—its anthropocentric foundations, a static chain of being, its influence on social and political power, and the presumptuous claim to immortality. It might have gone another way. It has often been noted that the verse in Genesis reading “and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life…” was incorrectly translated from the Hebrew, and that the exact Hebrew renders “and to every thing that creepeth upon the earth wherein there is a living soul…,” since two key words at the end, read right to left, were nefesh (soul) and chayah (living). Elsewhere (Genesis 1: 20, 24) these Hebrew words are translated as “living creature” or “creatures.” That is, it possibly meant all creatures had souls. So much turmoil, pain, and upheaval has rested on biblical phrases or even single words that have been misinterpreted, misused and made the basis for edifices of theological fluff. This is another example.

Nevertheless, it made sense to a good many Christians to avoid awkward arguments favoring a human-only dualism and allow immortal souls to animals—after all, the idea that animals have souls has a long and ancient history, including its assurance by some early Christians. During the Enlightenment, the influential Bishop of Durham, Joseph Butler (1692–1752), pondered “the natural immortality of brutes” and wrote that there was nothing in nature to give “even the slightest presumption, that animals ever lose their living powers; much less, if it were possible, that they lose them by death.”[14]Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 156-157. The French historian Jules Michelet (1798–1874) rejected Cartesian materialism and pleaded the case animals in his L’Oiseau (The Bird):

If she has not a soul, who will answer to me for the human soul?

Open your eyes to the evidence. Throw aside your prejudices, your traditional and derived opinions. Preconceived ideas and dogmatic theories apart, you cannot offend Heaven by restoring a soul to the beast. How much grander the Creator’s work if he created persons, soul, and will, than if he has constructed machines![15]Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 251.

A few years later, Darwin published On the Origin of Species (1859) and later The Descent of Man (1871) in which he asserted from a scientific standing what ancient philosophers had already remarked, that the difference between humans and animals was one of degree.

The truth of evolution brought the question of animal souls into sharper focus, “if men had evolved from animals then either animals also had immortal souls or men did not.”[16]Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 141. Yet even then, there were Christians who refused to yield to any idea of animal immortality that might push over their already teetering edifice of anthropocentric arrogance.

As a concession, we can say that what they did get right was that animals did not have a soul and were not going to heaven. What they got disastrously wrong was to believe humans did not have the same fate.

Despite evolutionary findings, it was still common for many Christians to accept that heaven barred entry to animals. They clung to the medieval interpretation of Romans (8: 21), where St. Paul vaguely states that “the creature itself also shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God.” It seems quite clearly the opposite, but the medieval interpretation sees this as for humans-only, while some early Protestant interpreters felt that it included all animals.[17]Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 138-139. “We cannot bear the thought of it,” wrote the retired Anglican vicar Humphry Primatt (c. 1735–c. 1776-9) in The Duty of Mercy on the prospect of animals entering heaven:

…in the pride of our heart we rather say: let man be happy, though all creation groan. Yet… God is a righteous judge; and it is presumption in Man to determine the limits of the divine goodness. However, as we have no authority to declare, and no testimony from heaven to assure us, that there is a state of recompense for suffering brutality, we will suppose there is none.[18]Humphry Primatt, The Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals (Fontwell, Sussex: Centaur Press, 1992), 32.

Primatt, ahead of its time in some ways, writing one of finest calls of his age for Christians to show mercy toward animals, nonetheless presumes “the limits of the divine goodness” and that animals were not recompensed in heaven and had no immortal soul.

Any ill-treatment to animals, therefore, is “an injury irreparable,” an injustice for which they receive no compensation beyond this life. Like Primatt, a number of Enlightenment intellectuals subscribed to this logic, being that animals should be treated justly, even more so than a child, as they deserved a “right to happiness” in this world because it is their “only inheritance.”[19]Humphry Primatt, The Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animal (Fontwell, Sussex: Centaur Press, 1992), 33. The poet Alexander Pope, a life-long Catholic, was famed for animal advocacy, though along these lines:

The more entirely the inferior creation is submitted to our power, the more answerable we should seem for our mismanagement of it; and the rather, as the very condition of nature renders these creatures incapable of receiving any recompense in another life for their ill treatment in this.[20]Alexander Pope, “Against Barbarity to Animals,” The Guardian, No. 61 (Thursday, May 21, 1713), 261-267.

In Epistle I of “An Essay on Man,” Pope writes it is only the simply minded Indian that thinks “His faithful dog shall bear him company” (l. 112) to heaven.

A century before, recompense for mere mortals had been taken to an extreme by Jesuit Cardinal Robert Bellermine (1542–1621), who permitted fleas with “nothing but the enjoyment of this present life” to luncheon upon him without disturbance.[21]Quote in Gerald Carson, Men, Beasts, and Gods: a History of Cruelty and Kindness to Animals (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972), 17. Also, in William E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals: From Augustus to Charlemagne, Volume II (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1895), 172, note 3. And why not, since it was human-made original sin that doomed all innocent creatures in the first place?

Others simply could not accept a condemnation so merciless in its scale, so inexplicable against all common sense, so unjust as a soulless nonhuman world. One example was Martin Luther (1483–1546), progenitor of the Protestant Reformation, who envisaged heaven for animals:

of this we are sure, the world to come will be no empty, lifeless waste… God will make new heavens and a new earth. All poisonous and malicious and hurtful creatures will be banished there, all that our sin has ruined.[22]Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 94.

The dissonance of mortal animals was too much for physician George Cheyne (1671–1743), who found it,

utterly incredible, that any Creature, whether sentient or intelligent, should come into this State of Being and Suffering, for no other Purpose than we see them attain here; and it is equally incredible, that any Creature should spontaneously exert animal and muscular Function, i.e. should live and feel, without some Degree of an immaterial, immortal, and self-active Spirit. Matter and its Laws, can never account for such Appearances. There must be some infinitely beautiful, wise and good Scene remaining for all sentient and intelligent Beings, the Discovery of which will ravish and astonish us one Day.[23]George Cheyne, An essay on regimen: together with five discourses, medical, moral, and philosophical : serving to illustrate the principles and theory of philosophical medicin, and point out some of its moral consequences (London: Rivington, 1740), 86-87.

John Wesley (1704–1791) gave a famous sermon on behalf of animal immortality, asking “what does it answer to dwell upon this subject, which we so imperfectly understand?” as a reminder that no one is actually qualified to assert animal immortality either way, and after all, no animal “is forgotten in the sight of our Father.” Faced with the monumental suffering and punishment endured by animals, when none have sinned, we have “a plausible objection against the justice of God,” and so we must accept animal immorality if we are to conclude a just God.[24]John Wesley, Sermon 60, “The General Deliverance.” But religious thinkers such as these were the enlightened few. The standard was still anthropocentric, as we see in Primatt, with the focus on rational humans acting “in a manner unbecoming that station in which the providence of God hath placed them” against a background of animal cruelty.

Calls for mercy were still not widely disseminated either, nor popular with the masses. That is inherent in the reason why Primatt’s book had to be written in the first place and in his direct criticisms of how things stood in his age:

we reflect upon the most shocking barbarities, and then see the brutal rage exercised by the most worthless of men, without control of law, and without notice or reproof from the pulpit, we are almost tempted to draw this inference, that cruelty cannot be sin.[25]Humphry Primatt, The Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals (Fontwell, Sussex: Centaur Press, 1992), 26.

No blame is placed on the Christian heritage responsible for this state of affairs, where animal cruelty is ignored, but it is nonetheless there in Primatt’s acknowledgment of silence from the pulpit. Nor is it proposed that if only God had the foresight to be clearer on the issue, there would not have been so much mystery and confusion.

Christian norms benumbed minds and made the everyday faithful hostile to criticism of abuses. Indeed, in 1772, a few years before Duty of Mercy was published, Reverend James Granger gave a sermon called “An Apology for the Brute Creation, or Abuse of Animals censured,”[26]An apology for the brute creation, or abuse of animals censured; in a sermon on Proverbs xii. 10. preached in the parish church of Shiplake, in Oxfordshire, October 18, 1772. the reaction to which Granger records in a postscript a year later to his published version of the sermon.

The foregoing discourse gave almost universal disgust to two considerable congregations. The mention of dogs and horses was censured as a prostitution of the dignity of the pulpit, and considered as a proof of the Author’s growing insanity.[27]Quoted in E. S. Turner, All Heaven in a Rage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), 72.

This is what you could expect if speaking out against the normality of a pious mainstream. The fact people had to argue for animals speaks volumes of the damage done by heaven’s apartheid. It is perhaps no better expressed than to say that in being outside of the “pale of hope” they were thrust outside the “pale of sympathy”:

It should seem as if the primitive Christians, by laying so much stress upon a future life in contradistinction to this life, and placing the lower creatures out of the pale of hope, placed them at the same time out of the pale of sympathy, and thus laid the foundation for this utter disregard of animals …Kind, loving, submissive, conscientious, much enduring, we know them to be ; but because we deprive them of all stake in the future, because they have no selfish calculated aim, these are not virtues.[28]Dr. Arnold of Rugby, quoted in Mrs. Jameson, A Commonplace Book of Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies (London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1855), 209.

Even with doctrinal based pleads for moral duty, Christian animal advocates, for the most part, “replicated the Bible’s half-heartedness and inconsistency” and went only so far before yielding to biblical dogma on animal exploitation for human benefit.[29]Norm Phelps, The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy From Pythagoras to Peta (New York: Lantern Books, 2007), 87.

As we have seen, the idea that animals might go to heaven has spawned no end of speculations on the conditions of salvation and no end of ridiculous calculations—for example, whether lice might be resurrected as well. C.S. Lewis weight in on the matter and felt that only “tame animals” qualified for heaven, so that took care of nasty parasites and human munching predators for him.[30]C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperCollins, 2009), 143-144. Ultimately, all such nonsense should be cut short. To all the religious: do not presume the fate of humans and nonhumans is any different until you have proven your god first. Establish a heaven first, otherwise all of your musings are pointless.

Secularists Against the True Infidels

Despite more enlightened thinking as the Enlightenment progressed, populations still saw nothing amiss in cruelty. The diary Thomas Isham wrote as a teenager from November 1, 1671, to September 30, 1673—published under various titles, such as The Diary of Thomas Isham of Lamport (1658-81)—is often cited as an example of the daily cruelty in people’s lives, which, if Thomas is any indication, did not especially disturb anyone. The denial of immortality in animals bred a mentality of blindness and “the cruelty of indifference,” as Keith Thomas writes, where “beasts were outside the terms of moral reference.”[31]Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 148. No wonder then that the absence of Christian care was unremarkable.

By the late-1800s, however, Christian leaders and mainstream denominations had gained such a reputation for ignoring animal welfare as to be regularly reviled by secularists and a handful of outspoken and courageous religious animal welfare campaigners. The formidable Frances Power Cobbe (1822–1904), like a burly no-nonsense aunt, was a force against apathetic churchmen, decrying the

dogmatic reassertion of definitions drawn in the Dark Ages and the persistent re-erection upon these definition of an impassable wall between persons with rights and things (sentient, intelligent, affectionate things!) with no rights whatever.[32]E. S. Turner, All Heaven in a Rage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), 163-164.

Cardinal Manning (1808–1892), a supporter of Cobbe in her anti-vivisection crusade, and Cardinal Newman (1801–1890), while agreeing to no moral duties to animals stressed that treating animals humanely was a “seven-fold obligation” to God.[33]Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 196, 228. Newman, who was sickened by the “cowardice and tyranny” towards animals felt that “there is something so very dreadful, so satanic in tormenting those who have never harmed us, and who cannot defend themselves,” expressed that “Cruelty to animals is as if humans did not love God.” Such was the line of reasoning, ignoring any deeper examination into the reality of nonhuman animals and instead putting an invisible, anthropomorphic deity front and center.

Nonetheless, their Christian voices were part of a growing change in sensibilities, and few could match the harsh incitements of secular critics, such as the vegetarian atheist Henry Salt or atheist philosopher Authur Schopenhauer, on silence from the Church. Salt notes that the question “Where are the clergy?” was often raised in protests against animal cruelty during the Victorian Era and beyond, but “there was nothing new in the failure of organized Religion to aid in the work of emancipation.”[34]Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 212. He acknowledges, certainly, that “humaneness is not a perquisite of any one sect or creed… religious or secular,” but it seems to be especially distant from religion:

Religion has never befriended the cause of humaneness. Its monstrous doctrine of eternal punishment and the torture of the damned underlies much of the barbarity with which man has treated man ; and the deep division imagined by the Church between the human being, with his immortal soul, and the soulless “beasts,” has been responsible for an incalculable sum of cruelty.[35]Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 213.

The religious are contented with a world of inverted morality, an upside-down world, where, Salt observes, you get “the persistent disbelief in the kinship of all sentient life : it is the religious, not the heretics, who are the true infidels and unbelievers.”[36]Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 214. Church leaders nor rank and file clergy gave “little cheer” to the Humanitarian League, founded by Salt and others in 1891—no, says Salt, “From Religion …the League expected nothing and got nothing”[37]Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 216.

Salt was in no doubt about the progenitor of animal cruelty and abuse. Daily mainstream conduct was religious doctrine in practice: the “explanation of the insensibility or inhumanity of the western nations in their treatment of animals” may be traced to the yawning gulf created between humans and animals in part because of

the ‘religious’ notion, which awards immortality to man, but to man alone, thereby furnishing (especially in Catholic countries) a quibbling justification for acts of cruelty to animals, on the plea that they ‘have no souls.’[38]Henry Salt, Animals’ Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress (Society for Animal Rights, 1980), 10-11.

Add to that religion’s pernicious offshoot of Cartesian philosophy and its “monstrous contention” that animals were merely “animated machines.” Cartesian mentality, for Salt, had become firmly embedded in the sciences and the attitudes of scientists.

It was the sheer scale of cruelty and apathetic disregard that Salt found remarkable, along with so few religious individuals voicing their concern. So remarkable and disappointing, he refers to it again and again. Here, on the blood sports pursued at British private schools:

even as late as the headmastership of Dr. Balston (1857-68), it had been permitted to the boys, as a variation from the hare-hunt, to pursue with beagles a mutilated fox deprived of one of his pads. In the hundreds of sermons which I have heard preached in Eton College Chapel, never was a word spoken on the subject of cruelty. And no wonder ; for Eton had always been a home of cruel sports.[39]Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 27.

And that, “Many instances might be quoted of the deep godliness, at times even religious rapture, felt by the votaries of blood-sports.”[40]Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 171.

Here, on the attitude at higher institutions of learning:

Except from F. D. Maurice, I never heard, during my four years at Cambridge—from preacher or professor, from lecturer, dean, or don—the least mention of the higher social ethics, without which there can be no real culture and no true civilization.[41]Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 47.

Here, on excuses for feeding live animals to other animals at the London Zoo:

Some of the reasons offered for the old system of snake-feeding were themselves truly reptilian. “ We follow God’s ordinances, and they must be right,” was the reverent remark of a keeper ; and humanitarians were told that “ to declare the use of live food to be cruel is to bring that charge against the Designer of Nature Himself. ” So deep and fervent was the piety of the Reptile House ![42]Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 165.

Here, on other fallacies in defense of brutality and the dismissal of animals from moral concern:

Strictly ecclesiastical was the tone of a pamphlet which hailed from New York State, entitled “ The Dog Question, discussed in the Interest of Humanity,” and concluded in these terms : “ Now, my boy or girl, whichever you are, drop this nonsense about dogs. They are demanding valuable time that should be employed in teaching such as you. A dog cannot love you. You cannot love a dog. Naught beside a divine soul can love or be loved. Chloroform your dog, and take to reading your Testament.”Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 172.

Salt was in full agreement with Schopenhauer, a formidable critic of the Judeo-Christian reputation for inhumanity toward nonhuman animals, who had earlier noted in his essay “The Basis of Morality” (“Über die Grundlage der Moral”) how Christianity’s immoral and ill-founded doctrine served as a bases for the perversity of Cartesian abstractions.

The unpardonable forgetfulness in which the lower animals have hitherto been left by the [popular] moralists of Europe is well known. It is pretended that the [so-called] beasts have no rights. They persuade themselves that our conduct in regard to them has nothing to do with morals, or (to speak the language of their morality) that we have no duties towards ‘animals:’ a doctrine revolting, gross, and barbarous, peculiar to the West, and having its root in Judaism. In philosophy, however, it is made to rest upon a hypothesis, admitted, in despite of evidence itself, of an absolute difference between man and ‘beast.’ It is Descartes who has proclaimed it in the clearest and most decisive manner; and in fact it was a necessary consequence of his errors. The Cartesian – Leibnitzian – Wolfian philosophy, with the assistance of entirely abstract notions, had built up the ‘rational psychology,’ and constructed an immortal anima rationalis: …to hollow out between man and ‘beast’ an enormous abyss, of an immeasurable width; by this they wish to prove to us, in contempt of evidence, an impassable difference.[43]Quoted in Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet: A Catena of Authorities Deprecatory of the Practice of Flesh-Eating (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003 [orig. 1883]), 288-289; also, Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality, trans. Arthur Broderick Bullock (Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1903), 218.

In “contempt of evidence,” indeed. The whole thrust of Schopenhauer’s essay is that the only true foundation of morality is compassion, including compassion for the suffering of nonhuman animals. Its contrary is the foundation laid by religion for the customary harshness and cruelty of Europe that even Asian natives at the time look upon in horror.

The Christian immoral disregard for animals was one of the proofs in Schopenhauer’s mind of its flawed moral system.

another fundamental error of Christianity, an error which cannot be explained away, and the mischievous consequences of which are obvious every day : I mean the unnatural distinction Christianity makes between man and the animal world to which he really belongs. It sets up man as all-important, and looks upon animals as merely things…The important part played by animals all through Buddhism and Brahmanism, compared with the total disregard of them in Judaism and Christianity, puts an end to any question as to which system is nearer perfection, however much we in Europe may have become accustomed to the absurdity of the claim. Christianity contains, in fact, a great and essential imperfection in limiting its precepts to man, and in refusing rights to the entire animal world.[44]Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Christian System,” in Religion: A Dialog and Other Essays, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1915), 112.

The absent Christian morality is nothing short of shameful. It was only good, based on the evidence of daily tyranny, for “vivisection, for deer-stalking, bull-fights, horse-races, etc., and they may be whipped to death as they struggle along with heavy quarry carts.”[45]Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality, trans. Arthur Broderick Bullock (Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1903), 94. Witnesses to what was happening on the streets, like Schopenhauer, tell history’s wider, more common story, one of Christian minority voices calling for mercy and compassion toward animals while a general public paid no heed:

look at the revolting ruffianism with which our Christian public treats its animals ; killing them for no object at all, and laughing over it, or mutilating or torturing them; even its horses, who form its most direct means of livelihood, are strained to the utmost in their old age, and the last strength worked out of their poor bones until they succumb at last under the whip. One might say with truth, Mankind are the devils of the earth, and the animals the souls they torment.[46]Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Christian System,” in Religion: A Dialog and Other Essays, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1915), 113.

All of this and nature’s barbarous destruction are for Schopenhauer manifest effects of Genesis.[47]Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Christian System,” in Religion: A Dialog and Other Essays, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1915), 114. He recognizes its role in establishing an inverted morality, slowly being redressed, when praising the British for repairing “by legislation the gap their religion has left in morality” and noting that the awakening of Europeans to a sense of animal rights is directly proportional to their outgrowing and overcoming that “strange” anthropocentric idea of an animal kingdom that exists solely for the benefit of man.[48]Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality, trans. Arthur Broderick Bullock (Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1903), 225.

The slow awakening was not without resistance, and no prize for guessing from which quarter. A common trait uniting Schopenhauer and Salt is secularism, and common themes in their age were that of human kinship or commonality with animals and the laggard progress of its universal acceptance. Though evolution entirely vindicated commonality, it met with stern resistance, for “as the nineteenth century debates on evolution would show,” Keith Thomas explains, “anthropocentrism was still the prevailing outlook.”[49]Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 169. Thomas quotes the example of Bishop Samuel Wilberforce, who is remembered for his representative in a review of Darwin’s On the Origin of Species:

Man’s derived supremacy over the earth; man’s power of articulate speech; man’s gift of reason; man’s free will and responsibility…—all are equally and utterly irreconcilable with the degrading notion of the brute origin of him who was created in the image of God.[50]Samuel Wilberforce, “Is Mr Darwin a Christian?” in Quarterly Review, volume 108 (July, 1860), 225-64.

“Nor can we doubt,” continues Wilberforce, that evolution is “inconsistent with the fullness of His glory.” Facts and science were a nuisance to Wilberforce, so inconsistent with revelation, and so they must quite naturally be in error.

The umbrage and fierce resistance against evolution, Peter Singer has pointed out,

is an indication of the extent to which speciesist ideas had come to dominate Western thought. The idea that we are the product of a special act of creation, and that the other animals were created to service us, was not to be given up without resistance.[51]Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Ecco, 2002), p. 206.

Regrettably, it was not just the religious fraternity that resisted implications of Darwinian evolution. Scientists too, in the anthropocentric rut, and comfortably so, were in no hurry to budge. Rather than give up long-held prejudices against animals, they were justified with secular excuses and evasions, of the kind still commonly seen today. As Enlightenment thinking on animal realities seemed to take centuries to filter down to the masses, so evolutionary thinking since Darwin may have to continue for centuries before the lie of dominion is finally quashed in the so-called civilized world.

Notes   [ + ]

1. Anna Kingsford & Edward Maitland, The Credo of Christendom and Other Addresses and Essays on Esoteric Christianity (Kessinger Publishing, 1994), 239.
2. Roberta Kalechofsky, The Poet-Physician and The Healer-Killer: Vivisection and The Emergence of a Medical Technocracy (Micah Publications, 2009), 170-171.
3. E. S. Turner, All Heaven in a Rage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), 163.
4. William E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals: From Augustus to Charlemagne, Volume II (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1895), 173, 177.
5. Norm Phelps, The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy From Pythagoras to Peta (New York: Lantern Books, 2007), 59.
6. William E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals: From Augustus to Charlemagne, Volume II (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1895), 173.
7. Frances Power Cobbe, Life of Frances Power Cobbe as Told by Herself (London: Swan Sonnenschein & Co., 1904) 548-549.
8. Porphyry, Select Works of Porphyry, trans. Thomas Taylor (London: Thomas Rod, 1823), 115.
9. Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet: A Catena of Authorities Deprecatory of the Practice of Flesh-Eating (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003 [orig. 1883]), 71 note.
10. John Ray, The Wisdom of God Manifested in the Works of the Creation (London: William Innes & Richard Manby, 1736), 175-176; and quoted in Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 126.
11. Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 144.
12. Richard Overton, Man Wholly Mortal (Kessinger Publishing, 2003), 47.
13. Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 123.
14. Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 156-157.
15. Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 251.
16. Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 141.
17. Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 138-139.
18. Humphry Primatt, The Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals (Fontwell, Sussex: Centaur Press, 1992), 32.
19. Humphry Primatt, The Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animal (Fontwell, Sussex: Centaur Press, 1992), 33.
20. Alexander Pope, “Against Barbarity to Animals,” The Guardian, No. 61 (Thursday, May 21, 1713), 261-267.
21. Quote in Gerald Carson, Men, Beasts, and Gods: a History of Cruelty and Kindness to Animals (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972), 17. Also, in William E. H. Lecky, History of European Morals: From Augustus to Charlemagne, Volume II (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1895), 172, note 3.
22. Rod Preece, Awe for the Tiger, Love for the Lamb: A Chronicle of Sensibility to Animals (London: Routledge, 2002), 94.
23. George Cheyne, An essay on regimen: together with five discourses, medical, moral, and philosophical : serving to illustrate the principles and theory of philosophical medicin, and point out some of its moral consequences (London: Rivington, 1740), 86-87.
24. John Wesley, Sermon 60, “The General Deliverance.”
25. Humphry Primatt, The Duty of Mercy and the Sin of Cruelty to Brute Animals (Fontwell, Sussex: Centaur Press, 1992), 26.
26. An apology for the brute creation, or abuse of animals censured; in a sermon on Proverbs xii. 10. preached in the parish church of Shiplake, in Oxfordshire, October 18, 1772.
27. Quoted in E. S. Turner, All Heaven in a Rage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), 72.
28. Dr. Arnold of Rugby, quoted in Mrs. Jameson, A Commonplace Book of Thoughts, Memories, and Fancies (London: Longman, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1855), 209.
29. Norm Phelps, The Longest Struggle: Animal Advocacy From Pythagoras to Peta (New York: Lantern Books, 2007), 87.
30. C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (HarperCollins, 2009), 143-144.
31. Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World?: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 148.
32. E. S. Turner, All Heaven in a Rage (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965), 163-164.
33. Jon Wynne-Tyson Ed., The Extended Circle: A Commonplace Book of Animal Rights (New York: Paragon House, 1989), 196, 228.
34. Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 212.
35. Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 213.
36. Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 214.
37. Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 216.
38. Henry Salt, Animals’ Rights: Considered in Relation to Social Progress (Society for Animal Rights, 1980), 10-11.
39. Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 27.
40. Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 171.
41. Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 47.
42. Henry Salt, Seventy Years Among Savages (London: George Unwin & Allen, 1921), 165.
43. Quoted in Howard Williams, The Ethics of Diet: A Catena of Authorities Deprecatory of the Practice of Flesh-Eating (Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 2003 [orig. 1883]), 288-289; also, Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality, trans. Arthur Broderick Bullock (Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1903), 218.
44. Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Christian System,” in Religion: A Dialog and Other Essays, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1915), 112.
45. Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality, trans. Arthur Broderick Bullock (Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1903), 94.
46. Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Christian System,” in Religion: A Dialog and Other Essays, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1915), 113.
47. Arthur Schopenhauer, “The Christian System,” in Religion: A Dialog and Other Essays, trans. T. Bailey Saunders (London: George Allen & Unwin, Ltd., 1915), 114.
48. Arthur Schopenhauer, The Basis of Morality, trans. Arthur Broderick Bullock (Swan Sonnenschein & Co., Ltd., 1903), 225.
49. Keith Thomas, Man and the Natural World: Changing Attitudes in England 1500-1800 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 169.
50. Samuel Wilberforce, “Is Mr Darwin a Christian?” in Quarterly Review, volume 108 (July, 1860), 225-64.
51. Peter Singer, Animal Liberation (New York: Ecco, 2002), p. 206.

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